by Dylan Falduto
In my recent article, “Power Building For Serious Strength and Size,” I highlighted the template I have found most efficient for building lean mass while improving power, strength, and athletic output. However, we are what we eat, and in order for any strength program to work effectively, a consistent, nutrient-dense diet must be followed at all times.
I am a vegan and get all my macro and micronutrients from plant-based sources. With that in mind, this entire diet plan contains no animal by-products. However, even if you are a meat-eater, I would still advocate this plan—I was once a “meat and potatoes” athlete myself and I know that anyone can benefit from a nutrient-dense and primarily alkaline diet.
While I have highlighted what I use to pack on size, keep in mind that I follow basically the same diet year round. Even if I am trying to lean out, I eat the same stuff—the only difference being portioning. So, whether you are male or female, and whether you are looking to gain or lose weight, the basic guidelines of this article can definitely be a good starting point for you.
To start with, I am going to go over a few base terms, and then break down a typical day of eating.
Put simply, the only way to gain weight is to consistently take in more calories than you are burning. The easiest and healthiest means of doing this is to eat several small and nutritious meals throughout the day that will total to a surplus.
There are different trains of thought regarding the exact amount of calories needed for this surplus, and I am going to put my two cents into that now.
A common caloric surplus recommended for building lean muscle is about 20–22 calories per pound of body weight. So for a 165 pound person this would mean eating somewhere between 3300–3630 calories.
While I believe this 20–22 caloric surplus is a good starting point, and may very well work just fine for you, I am going to say that it doesn’t work for everyone—myself included.
I have never been a “hard gainer,” and my body has little problem adjusting to a surplus and accruing weight. To put it in perspective, I am currently 5’10” and 170 pounds—when I was in the fifth grade I was about 5’5” and 175 pounds. Because my body has a naturally slower metabolism than some individuals, I do not need the amount of calories recommended in this range to gain lean muscle, or to quickly put on fat if I am eating too much. I have also read numerous accounts of very large individuals, in the 250+ range, that are able to sustain their large frames on fairly moderate caloric intakes. The reality is everyone has a different metabolism and body type, and this needs to be factored in when considering any diet plan.
Like anything in life, I really do believe the best means of gaining lean mass is through a measured practice of trial and error, and listening to your body. If you are feeling bloated, lethargic, or you are gaining significant body fat, then definitely mind attention to these red flags and scale back the amount of food you are consuming. Conversely, if you are not gaining the weight you want, then up your calories. If you are steadily gaining lean muscle and feeling good then simply keep doing what you are doing.
Without going into the typical vegan “people always ask me where…” we have all read a millions times, I will say protein does matter, the quality matters, and we all need a good amount of it if we wish to gain and maintain muscle.
But, being the devil’s advocate I am, I am not going to sit here and type off bodybuilder verbatim. Like calories, protein requirements are going to vary from individual to individual.
It is generally recommended, by bodybuilding purists, that to maintain lean muscle an individual should consume no less than 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, and if that individual’s goal is to gain additional lean muscle, he or she should be consuming anywhere from 1–2 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Again, I think this can work just fine as a guideline, but that it should be taken that way—as a guideline, not as an absolute, universal truth.
While packing on lean muscle, and minimal fat, my body does just fine with 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, or at times slightly less, and this is what I would recommend as a starting point.
At the moment, I eat anywhere from 160–175 grams of protein per day and I feel just fine. Personally, anytime I try to go much higher than this I get bloated and either have constipation or diarrhea; definitely not sexy and definitely not something I am going to advocate to anyone else!
Another thing to keep in mind is that protein is in everything. While much of protein comes from dense sources with complete amino acid profiles such as Sunwarrior products, tofu, quinoa, nutritional yeast, etc., I also factor in the protein I am consuming in veggies, oats, grains, and even fruit into my daily totals.
Easily the most important part of my diet, and yours—whether you are aware of it or not. Carbohydrates are the most potent sources of energy for all human beings, and they are essential to a quality performance if you are an athlete.
Whether I am looking to build up or cut down, I always, always eat plenty of carbs.
The cool thing about a vegan diet is that plenty of great carb sources are also packed with protein, fiber, and iron—so in my eyes we can get the most bang for our buck when we eat food like oatmeal, legumes, quinoa, grains, and nuts.
The antioxidant properties in fruits and vegetables are essential for athletic recovery and basic health, so an optimal diet should be rich in them.
I will be blunt: low carb diets are stupid for plenty of reasons, and I am sure there are articles out there that can explain why without me boring you on the subject here—so eat your carbs!
Like a low-carb diet, the fad diets out there filled with chemically altered “low fat” foods are also very, very stupid; however, moderation should be minded to this area of our diet.
While I often go against the grain of conventional recommendations, I commonly see 0.5–0.7 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight being advocated to anyone in intensive training, and I think this is a great range—while we all need fat, overdoing it is a quick way to mess with our digestive tracts, and, as you may have guessed, store body fat. Pick quality, whole food sources of fat such as raw nuts, nut butters, avocados, flaxseed, and coconut.
Personally, I keep my fat intake within the 0.5–0.7 recommendations or even slightly less, taking in about 70–80 grams of fat a day at 170 pounds, but on occasion I do take in a bit more—this is usually after a particularly grueling training day, when I am feeling very ground down. Fat is an excellent tool for recovery, as it prompts the production of hormones in our bodies, and adding in some extra dietary fat on these days works well for me. Again, I listen to my body.
Sample Meal Plan
Here is what a typical day of eating looks like for me.
I realize that some people may have allergens/objections to soy and wheat products. With that in mind, remember that I am also eating plenty of soy and wheat free meals, so if you are allergic to either, check out the other stuff in the meal plan. You can also replace soy with split peas or lentils, and replace wheat bread with rice bread. Just a thought!
Easily my favorite meal, and while I am down to mix some things up in my diet, I have this literally every day.
“The Warrior Bowl”
- 1 cup of oatmeal
- 1 scoop of Sunwarrior protein
- 2 tablespoons Bob’s flaxseed meal
- 1 banana
- ½ cup blue berries
This is a great combination of the slow digesting, fibrous carbohydrates found in oatmeal along with the faster-digesting high energy carbs and fructose found in fruit, a total of 30 grams of protein between the Sunwarrior and everything else in the meal, and some healthy, omega-3 fats from the flax. And it is delicious!
About an hour to an hour and a half later, I will be in the gym hitting the weights. Sometimes I munch a quick orange beforehand.
- 1 scoop of Sunwarrior
- 1 cup of kale or spinach
- 1 cup of berries
- 1 banana
Post-workout it is important to replenish nutrients and to begin recovery for your next session. Fruits and veggies are packed full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that will counteract the lactic acid build-up from the training session. I think the best thing to have at this time is a green protein smoothie, but if I am in a jam, I will have a scoop of Sunwarrior and an apple, orange, or banana. Whatever I eat, I like to keep it light, energy packed, and easily digestible. Contradictory to what a lot of people think, stuffing yourself after a workout is a terrible idea, and your body needs time to “come down” from the adrenaline rush of training before taking in larger portions of food. I personally eat my post-workout meal, and then give it a minimum of an hour before eating more solid food, often times waiting longer.
- ½ block of high-protein Trader Joe’s brand tofu
- 1–2 cups of spinach or kale
- ½ cup quinoa
- ¼ avocado
A satisfying meal packed full of fiber, antioxidants, healthy fat, and over 40 grams of complete protein.
Dunch (okay “snack”):
“The Vegan Elvis”
- 2 tablespoons nut butter
- 2 pieces of toasted sprouted grain bread
- 1 banana
Who doesn’t love Elvis? Well…probably plenty of you reading this, but you should, because he is the King! Like Elvis, I always loved eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich as a kid. Still do. However, my mom always omitted the King’s love of fried bacon and dairy butter in the sandwiches she made for me, and like my mom, I continue to do so myself. On the nutritional side, this is packed with healthy, slow digesting mono-saturated fats, fiber, and protein.
- ½ block high-protein Trader Joe’s brand tofu
- 1–2 cups of spinach or kale
- Plenty of brussel sprouts—I don’t bother to measure
- 1 sweet potato
This is pretty much my go-to meal, and it often becomes my lunch as well. This meal is light, protein and nutrient dense, and a great and delicious way to end the day or keep it going.
My other favorite meal—I eat this about two hours after dinner, shortly before going to bed.
I get creative here, but it always involves some form of Sunwarrior, and some variation of nut butter or fruit, and un-sweetened almond milk.
The Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake:
- 1–2 scoops Sunwarrior protein
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 cup of ice
This is a delicious ice cream shake I copped from Mike Mahler’s website, and even my dairy eating, beer swilling buddies in Wisconsin agree that this vegan specialty absolutely rules.
An easier variation if you do not have a blender or ice handy, or you are just being lazy, like I often am at this point of the night, is to simply put a scoop of Sunwarrior in a cup and mix it with about a half cup of almond milk and the peanut butter, and make pudding. That is also delicious! Blueberries are great in there too.
This is a great shake before bed time as it is packed with complete protein, and healthy, slow digesting fats to keep you satiated and recovering for the next morning’s intense session.
This is what works for me; it may help you as well. I believe the foundation of any healthy and successful diet is consistency. You need to train hard and stick to a solid diet at least 90–95% of the time to get the results you want. The best way to keep this consistency is to pick nutritious foods you look forward to eating every day—enjoy your diet, and you will have no problem sticking with it.banana sandwich Photo Credit: luftholen via Compfight cc